Oct 25 2012

Not just one kind of learning

Published by at 9:41 pm under Learning,Technology

Next week Nancy White and I are doing a talk at USAID on “Keeping Our Eye Out for Learning: How to identify learning practices and leverage them more strategically

We are inviting people to step back and consider a wider range of learning as a step toward asking what, exactly, learning is (and how to do it)? Learning is hard to pin down because it  doesn’t just happen in the classroom or the laboratory or in any specific place. The notion of a community of practice was invented to help focus attention on how indeed learning happened “outside the classroom.” Learning  doesn’t happen at an easy to identify time, either. We can’t even  say, “learning is what happens when you are in your communities of practice.”

In 1946, in “Behavior and Development as a Function of the Total Situation, X” a chapter of Field Theory in Social Science: Selected Theoretical Papers (Washington, DC, American Psychological Association, 1997, http://isbn.nu/9780837172361) Kurt Lewin (the father of Organization Development) wrote, “Learning is a popular term referring to such different processes … [that] no one theory of learning is possible.”  He offered a nice list of examples to show that diversity, which I’ve adapted and illustrated with my own  learning activities:

  • I’m learning to swim a side-stroke facing left because I noticed I really couldn’t do it very well: I was clumsy and tired myself out quickly. (Developing a physical skill.)
  • I’m learning to use quantitative tools like Google Refine and R because I realized I’ve been so deeply into the first-hand, touchy feely world of learning for the past 15 years that I had forgotten that for 20 years as a data geek I actually thought in the SAS language (and the SAS community was an eye-opener for me).
  • I learned to cuss in a complicated world: my parents were very straight-laced medical missionaries from Ohio but we lived next to a slum in Puerto Rico so that by age 5 I was claiming to my mother that in Spanish I was the linguistic authority on what was a cuss word and what not. 🙂
  • And of course there’s the ongoing learning how to collaborate with people, social learning.  Recently I’ve been absorbed in a really good book on military strategy that really comes down to how to work with people: Barry Boyce and James Gimian, The Rules of Victory: How to Transform Chaos and Conflict–Strategies from The Art of War (Boston & London: Shambhala, 2009).  As I read it I think to myself that you can read the whole book as if it were titled “The Art of Learning.”

I guess I’m learning that there is more than just one kind of learning, so more than one theory may be needed.

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Not just one kind of learning”

  1. Carmendsw says:

    Hi John, thanks for your post. Indeed, lots of kinds of learning and learning processes at individual, organisational and even network or system level. Within the organisation I work for, IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre, we've just been exploring what 'learning' and 'adaptive management' mean to us. It's been interesting to hear different viewpoints from different people and also depending on the context and possible incentives, barriers and sensitivities relating to learning. I look forward to hearing more about your lessons.

  2. Charlie says:

    Great post! I learned a lot reading through not just one kind of learning pretty much. Different types of education habit is always a better chance to improve mind sharpness significantly. Thanks.

  3. allan says:

    It would be a nice challenge to focus on defining what learning is. Without learning we don't have much left, we can only become better people if we're prone to learning. Actually I am thinking about writing a paper about this with the help of a custom writing service, it should be interesting.

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